Changing expat trends sees Singapore top quality of life index

by Ray Clancy on September 22, 2015

For the first time, Singapore has topped the rankings for British expats seeking a happier, healthier and wealthier life, according to an annual index.

In the last year, the NatWest International Personal Banking (IPB) Quality of Life Index saw Singapore move from fourth place to top the polls. Meanwhile, traditional expat destinations such as Australia and Canada have been overtaken.

singapore flagThis dramatic shift has come about due to an increase in the amount of ‘temporary expats’ seeking work across the globe, according to the eighth annual index report. In 2008, when the Quality of Life Index began, some 67% of expats were people who were more likely to move abroad in search of sun, sea and a fresh start.

However, the data now shows that in 2015, these types of expats account for just 28%, while temporary expats account for 40% of those living and working abroad.

The study reveals that 84% of British expats in Singapore have seen an increase in their overall quality of life since moving to the island nation. Some 86% reported an improvement in their health and 84% said they now lived in a nicer, sunnier environment.

Expats also said they believed they had better job conditions in Singapore, however, despite the improved lifestyle only 9% of expats plan to stay in Singapore permanently, as the majority are there on temporary work assignments.

“Singapore is clearly a vibrant nation filled with lots of opportunities for career focused expats. With improved health, and beautiful surroundings, who can blame ambitious Brits for choosing this country,” said Dave Isley, head of NatWest International Personal Banking. “While destinations such as Australia and Canada are still rated highly by retiree expats, more and more people are making the move abroad with their career in mind, leading to the popularity of countries such as Singapore.”

The report points out that Singapore has seen a range of tax exemptions and flexible immigration policies put in place by the Government, who are keen to appeal to expats, who currently make up 38% of the total population.

The key industries for expats in Singapore include finance, which employs 29% of the expat population, and construction and manufacturing. The report also found that 68% of expats living in Singapore earn more than £125,000 per annum, compared with the global average of 21%.

While Singapore is the destination of choice, the change in the profile of the average expat has seen other Asian countries climb the list. In addition to Singapore climbing four places to claim the top spot, China has risen to third place from fifth and Hong Kong has risen to fifth place from eighth.

The report says that it is no coincidence that there has been a 34% increase in the number of temporary expats working in China and Singapore and a 29% increase in those living in Hong Kong. By comparison, over the same period, temporary expats living in the United States have fallen by 17% and this has impacted the ranking for similar countries outside Asia also, such as the United Arab Emirates, which rose to second place and also saw a 34% increase in temporary workers.

The report suggest that the shift in temporary expats’ destination is largely due to the growing demand for British professional skills in a number of prominent Asian and Arabic countries, following rapid economic growth and a greatly improved standard of living.

The vast majority of expats in Asia, for instance, experienced an increase in disposable income after relocating, particularly in Singapore at 83%, Hong Kong at 78% and China at 72%. This in stark contrast to European countries included in the index, which indicated that around a quarter of all expats now felt nervous or anxious about their economic situation with 22% in Portugal doing so, 26% in Spain and 28% in France.

The study indicates that the average profile of an expat will continue to shift in the coming years. Currently 54% of all British expats are working on temporary assignments abroad compared with 11% six years ago and this is expected to shift further as working overseas becomes more expected in the UK’s working culture.

Other trends are also likely to continue due to the changing expat culture. Younger people, for instance, are already significantly more likely to live abroad than they were in the past, with those aged 25 to 35 making up 27% of all expats compared to just 16% in 2011. The gender gap is also closing for the average British expat with women now making up 46% of all expats compared to 33% in 2011.

Isley explained that over eight years the index has seen the typical expat change significantly.

“Previously, moving abroad was a huge life commitment which would entail a complete upheaval for all involved. With the advances in remote working and new means available to keep in touch with family, people are more prepared than ever to pack their bags in search of both adventure and a way to improve their career prospects,” said Isley.

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